The UCU were told just 25 minutes before negotiations began that they could not participate Louis Ashworth/VARSITY

340 undergraduate supervisors have signed a petition demanding better pay and conditions as senior representatives from all 31 colleges met yesterday (30/04) to discuss their demands for fair working conditions.

The petition calls on Senior Tutors across the University to support the campaign for fair payment and contracts for those teaching Undergraduate students.

The petition organised by the Cambridge branch of the University and College Union (CUCU), argues that the supervision system “relies upon a pool of underpaid, undervalued and often unrecognised casualised academic workers drawn from postgraduate students, freelancers and postdocs”.

Varsity has learned that CUCU and the SU have also proposed three separate papers on pay, contracts, and paid training. These papers argue that the Colleges’ employment system needs overhauling in order to offer basic support for hourly-paid supervisors.

The paper on pay was discussed at the Senior Tutors’ Student Finance and Welfare Committee on Monday (26/04) but CUCU were excluded from negotiations. Ten days prior, CUCU had asked to attend the meeting, but 25 minutes before the meeting began CUCU were told they would not be allowed to attend.

The 31 Tutors met yesterday (30/04) through the Education Committee to discuss the joint CUCU and SU paper on contracts for supervisors. The Cambridge UCU was again prevented from attending this meeting. CUCU told Varsity: “The Colleges are just not negotiating with us. This is disgraceful and undemocratic: unions need to be meaningfully consulted on issues related to staff’s working conditions”.

The petition is part of the #justice4collegesupervisors campaign launched by CUCU and Cambridge Students’ Union (SU). The campaign demands college supervisors are paid properly for the full number of hours spent on class preparation and are provided with employment contracts. It also demands that they receive paid training.


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It also comes in the midst of the CUCU’s ’Recognition NOW’ campaign for Cambridge to join all other UK public universities in formally recognising the staff union. The University offered to recognise academic staff with formal teaching roles through the Union but this would exclude half the branch’s membership and most precariously employed staff.

Data provided by the University through FOI requests shows that in both 2016-2017 and 2017-2018, 34% of undergraduate supervisions across the University were provided by graduate students or staff members constituted as ‘other’ by University HR. This means that at least a third of supervision teaching was provided by staff without a long-term contract. In the same time period, a further 23% of all University supervisions were provided by other staff-members (such as post-docs and research fellows).

Research conducted by Cambridge UCU highlighted the negative impacts of this kind of employment on mental health, as well as its role in perpetuating inequalities with BME and women overrepresented in uncontracted supervision employment. As one Cambridge supervisor told Varsity: “It feels like you’re a lower class of staff member”.

UCU General Secretary Jo Grady commented: “The leaders of Cambridge’s colleges have an opportunity to begin fixing a serious injustice. The University and its Colleges have an almost unimaginable level of wealth, yet many of the supervisors who underpin the undergraduate teaching system are on poverty wages with no job security.”

She continued: “340 supervisors have made clear they will not accept working under these conditions. If Cambridge cares about the welfare of its staff and the tuition its undergraduates receive then the very least it needs to do is meet supervisors’ demands. Until it does so, UCU will continue to support staff in their fight for proper employment rights”.

Varsity has contacted the University for comment.